Rahul Gandhi’s march across India

Rahul Gandhi’s march across India

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Today’s briefing is a ~4.9 min read:

  • 🇮🇳 Indian politics: Gandhi marches to unite India and win votes.
  • ➕ Plus: Instagram cops a €405M fine, China and India recall troops from the border, and North Korea leans into being a ‘nuclear state’.

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🚶🏻‍♂️Gandhi marches against Modi

In brief:

  • With only 9% of Indians supporting him for prime minister, opposition politician Rahul Gandhi has decided to walk across India to draw attention to his political platform.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party dominate India’s politics, so Gandhi’s stunt might be the best chance of invigorating India’s lethargic opposition before 2024’s general election.

The route for the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Unite India march. Source: BBC

Stunt season is officially open

The leading figure in India’s main opposition party, Rahul Gandhi (no relation to Mahatma Gandhi fyi), has decided to channel his inner Forrest Gump and run walk clear across India.

  • Gandhi set off last Wednesday on what he calls the Bharat Jodo Yatra, or ‘Unite India March’ – a 3,570km journey from Kanyakumari on India’s southernmost tip to Kashmir in the country’s far north.

Gandhi hopes the march will invigorate supporters of his National Congress Party ahead of India’s 2024 general election and unite India against Modi’s “socially-divisive” agenda.

“I lost my father to the politics of hate and division. I will not lose my beloved country to it too.”

During his five-month walk, Gandhi will be accompanied by hundreds of party members and a cameraman, because in 2022, if it isn’t live-streamed, did it even happen?

Who is Rahul Gandhi?

Gandhi is a political ‘nepo baby’, which, for everyone born before the year 2000, means he owes his success to his parents.

  • Gandhi is the heir to the influential Nehru–Gandhi family; his father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as Indian prime ministers.

But things haven’t been all cool towels and peeled grapes for Rahul of late. He’s been tasked with revitalising the once-dominant National Congress Party, which has been in free fall ever since Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014.

  • The problem is, despite the Congress Party having dominated Indian politics for 54 of the 75 years since independence, a recent poll showed that only 9% of Indians want Gandhi to become prime minister in 2024.

Why it matters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP governs virtually unchecked at the national level. If you believe robust democracies require genuine alternatives, you’ll be hoping that Gandhi’s Unite India March will at least make the next election competitive.

Gandhi is using the march to push his narrative of Indian unity in contrast to Modi’s brand of Hindu nationalism.

  • Political analyst Zoya Hasan told the BBC, “[Gandhi’s] focus on uniting people at a time when Indian society is hugely polarised is a compelling message”.

Gandhi is also hammering Modi on India’s rising inflation and stubbornly-high youth unemployment rates.

Will Gandhi’s march work?

Early signs suggest Gandhi has at least captured the government’s attention – multiple BJP politicians and officials have taken swipes at the Unite India March. But ultimately, as journalist Rasheed Kidwai points out, the march must connect with average Indian voters.

It doesn’t help that Gandhi lacks the political skills of his forebears (one of whom was Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India).

Still, Gandhi doesn’t have much to lose – if you’re headed for an electoral wipeout, you may as well get in the best shape of your life along the way, right?

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North & Central Asia

🇧🇹 Bhutan

Bhutan has banned the import of most vehicles to save its dwindling foreign reserves.

  • Only utility vehicles, heavy machinery and vehicles employed in the tourism sector are exempt from the ban.
  • The Himalayan kingdom’s forex reserves have been hit hard by the pandemic and rising fuel and food prices.

🇨🇳 China

The Chinese Ministry of Defence announced that Chinese and Indian troops will ‘disengage’ from a contested area in the western Himalayas to reduce border tensions.

  • The decision comes shortly before the leaders of the two countries are due to meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation conference in Uzbekistan this week.
  • There were several deadly border skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops in 2020 which has caused diplomatic tension between the two countries.

🇯🇵 Japan

Japan and India agreed to deepen their economic and security ties during a rare ‘2+2 meeting’ last Thursday (a 2+2 meeting is a jargony way of describing a meeting between the foreign and defence ministers of two countries).

  • Japan and India are both members of ‘The Quad’, the security grouping designed to talk about contemporary security challenges (aka China’s growing influence).
  • This agreement is further evidence that shared concerns over China’s militarism in the Indo-Pacific region have drawn Tokyo and New Delhi closer together in recent years.

🇰🇵 North Korea

North Korea has passed a law declaring itself a ‘nuclear weapons state’.

  • Kim Jong-un stated that his country’s nuclear progress is “irreversible”.
  • The new law is a rhetorical flourish from Kim and doesn’t carry much practical or legal weight, but it doesn’t bode well for the US’s stated policy of achieving “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula.

🇵🇰 Pakistan

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited Pakistan over the weekend and appealed for “massive” global support for the country’s flood-hit communities.

  • Pakistan is suffering through devastating floods that have left a third of the country under water and caused over $30 billion in damage.
  • Guterres also underlined Pakistan’s extreme vulnerability to climate disasters despite the country having a marginal role as a greenhouse gas emitter.

👩‍💻 Europe scores another win over Big Tech

The news: The Irish Data Protection Commission has fined Instagram a whopping €405M for allegedly mishandling teens’ personal data.

  • The decision is the culmination of a two-year investigation by Irish authorities into Instagram’s violations of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What Instagram did wrong: The privacy watchdog took issue with Instagram’s business account settings, which allowed users to access enhanced profile metrics but also resulted in the automatic disclosure of phone numbers and email addresses.

  • According to a 2019 study, 60 million under-18-year-old users had the option to switch to ‘business’ accounts, possibly without knowing that by doing so, their contact details would become publicly available.

Why it matters: Countries around the world are watching and learning from the EU’s regulatory efforts to rein in Big Tech. Brussels appears proud to be leading the way:

Meta’s reaction: Instagram’s parent company Meta (the artist formerly known as Facebook) said they disagreed with how the penalty was calculated and will review the case to decide whether to appeal the Irish decision.

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